What is the Family and Medical Leave Act?
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that provides job protection and benefits coverage to eligible employees. The intent of the law is to help employees balance their work and family responsibilities by ensuring their right to take reasonable unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons.
FMLA allows an employee to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year for such things as the birth of a child, military duty, or serious illness or injury to the employee or an immediate family member. Employees can take up to 26 weeks a year to care for a covered military service member with a serious injury or illness. The University of Minnesota defines its FMLA benefit year the same as the University's fiscal year (July 1–June 30).
Employees do not have to take all their FMLA leave at once. They can take it intermittently or as part of a reduced work schedule if medically necessary.
Though FMLA leave is unpaid, the law ensures that employees can keep their health insurance while they are gone and that they will have the same or equivalent job and pay when they return.
The FMLA process at the U of M
1.The employee gives a supervisor written or oral notice of an FMLA-qualifying event.
An employee should give at least 30 days' notice of an FMLA-qualifying event when it is foreseeable and practical to do so (see "Qualifying Events" below). The employee does not need to specifically mention FMLA but should offer enough information for a supervisor to determine it is covered by FMLA.
Note: Even in cases in which the employee has not requested a leave under the FMLA, if the supervisor knows or has reason to believe that the employee is out of work for an FMLA-qualifying reason, the supervisor should proceed as if a request for FMLA was received and follow the steps below.
2. The supervisor immediately informs the unit HR department about a potential FMLA-qualifying leave (whether or not the supervisor has received notice from the employee).
3. The unit HR department, in consultation with the supervisor, determines if the absence qualifies for FMLA and if the employee needs to show certifying documents.
Within five business days of being notified by the employee or supervisor, unit HR sends the employee:
- FMLA Designation Notice (docx)
- FMLA Notice of Rights and Responsibilities (pdf)
- Notice of Rights Under FMLA (pdf)
(Microsoft Word versions are also available in the University Policy Library.)
4. The unit HR department enters FMLA leave information into HRMS.
5. The employee returns any requested certifying documents within 15 business days.
6. The unit HR department completes and sends required documentation to the employee.
End of Leave
1. The employee contacts the supervisor or unit HR department before their expected return to work.
The employee should confirm a return date or explain the medical necessity of more leave beyond 12 weeks.
2. The supervisor arranges for the employee to return to work.
Under FMLA, the employee must return to the same or equivalent position as before the leave (see "Return to Work" below). If the employee is returning to an equivalent job, rather than the same job, the supervisor and employee should discuss the terms of the new position.
3. The unit HR department keeps FMLA documents on file.
Keep FMLA documentation separate from an employee’s personnel file and retain it for at least three years.
FMLA checklists: These handy worksheets will take you step-by-step through the FMLA process.
Unit HR and supervisor responsibilities
Unit HR Responsibilities
- Applying FMLA rules consistently
- Determining employee eligibility under the FMLA
- Providing notice of an employee’s use of FMLA eligibility within five business days of being notified by the employee or learning of an FMLA-qualifying event
- Reviewing certification documents, if requested, from the employee and following up on incomplete documentation
- Keeping accurate records of FMLA usage. A typical employee record will contain a copy of the written notice to the employee, medical documentation supporting the absence and the return to work (if needed), and the amount of FMLA eligibility used during the employee’s FMLA benefit year.
- Note: Keep FMLA documentation separate from an employee’s personnel file and retain it for at least three years.
- Recognizing an FMLA-qualifying event
- Notifying the department administrator or human resources representative of an employee's absence for an FMLA-qualifying event
- Keeping accurate records of FMLA usage
- Providing an appropriate placement when the employee returns to work
During an FMLA absence, employees are responsible for:
- Providing 30 days' notice for an FMLA-covered absence when the need is foreseeable, such as the birth of a child, placement of a child for adoption or foster care, or for planned medical treatment for a serious health condition of the employee or a family member. When it is not practical to provide 30 days' notice, or when the need to be absent is not foreseeable, notice must be given as soon as practical. If an employee does not provide at least 30 days' notice of a foreseeable FMLA absence, the employee can be asked to explain the reason for the delay.
- Providing the University with enough information to determine that an absence is covered by the FMLA
- For planned medical treatment, consulting with the department to minimize the disruption to business operations
- Following their unit's call-in procedures when unable to work
- Keeping the University notified of the anticipated timing and duration of the absence and return to work
The FMLA applies to all employees of the University of Minnesota who meet the eligibility requirements. For employees covered by collective bargaining, if the information on this web page differs from the agreement for their bargaining unit, the bargaining agreement governs.
An employee is eligible for FMLA when both of these conditions are met:
- The employee has worked for the University for at least 12 months over the past seven years as of the date the FMLA leave is to start, and
- The employee has worked for the U at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months immediately before the date the FMLA leave is to start.
Determining FMLA Eligibility
Use the following rules to calculate:
12 Months of Employment
- The 12 months do not have to be consecutive. (However, do not count work performed prior to a break in service of more than seven years—not including military duty.)
- Part-time, temporary, or seasonal work counts toward the 12 months of employment.
- If an employee was on the payroll for any part of a week, that week counts as employment.
- Any combination of 52 weeks equals 12 months.
- Breaks in service due to military duty in the National Guard or Reserves are counted toward the employee's 12 months, just as if the employee had been working during that time.
- If the employee has worked fewer than 12 months but needs to take a leave of absence for an FMLA-qualifying event, they may meet the 12-month requirement while they are absent from work. Their time away from work counts toward their length of employment.
1,250 Hours of Employment
- 1,250 hours averages to a little more than 24 hours of work a week in the 12-month period, or 31.25 weeks of full-time work (40 hours a week).
- Count all paid hours toward the 1,250 hours: including overtime, vacation, sick leave, holidays, or any other type of paid time off.
- Time worked as a part-time, temporary, or seasonal employee counts toward the requirement.
- An employee returning from military duty is credited with the hours they would have worked during that time.
If the employee does not meet these eligibility requirements, a department cannot designate the leave as FMLA. However, the department may grant the employee personal leave.
FMLA covers employees for up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave from work during each University fiscal year (July 1–June 30) for these situations:
- The birth of a child and time to bond with the newborn child within one year of birth
- The placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care and time to bond with the child within a year of placement
- A serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of their job, including incapacity due to pregnancy and for prenatal medical care
- The need to care for the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent who has a serious health condition, including incapacity due to pregnancy and for prenatal medical care
- A qualifying situation due to an employee’s family member being called to military active duty (see "Military Family Leave" below)
FMLA also allows up to 26 weeks of leave in a single 12-month period to care for a service member with a serious injury or illness if the employee is the spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin of the service member.
FMLA benefit year
Under FMLA, the employer designates the 12-month period during which its employees are entitled to be absent from work for up to 12 weeks. The University designates its fiscal year as the FMLA benefit year. This means an employee is eligible for 12 weeks of FMLA leave (26 weeks to care for a service member) during each fiscal year, from July 1 through June 30.
FMLA coverage does not carry over from one benefit year to the next. Beginning July 1, the employee cannot continue any unused FMLA leave from the previous benefit year. The employee has 12 weeks of FMLA eligibility beginning the first day of the new FMLA benefit year.
Stacking of FMLA Coverage
Employees can "stack" their FMLA leave to receive more than 12 weeks of FMLA coverage for a single FMLA-qualifying event if their FMLA absence overlaps two fiscal years.
Example: The University's fiscal year starts on July 1. If an employee begins FMLA leave on April 11 and returns to work on August 15, the employee would use FMLA eligibility from two FMLA benefit years. Specifically, the employee would use 81 calendar days of FMLA coverage (April 11 to June 30) of one fiscal year, followed by 45 calendar days (July 1 to August 14) of the next fiscal year. Together, the employee would be covered by FMLA for 126 calendar days, or 18 weeks.
Because FMLA leave doesn't have to be continuous, an employee may stack FMLA coverage even if they take leave for a single qualifying event intermittently across two fiscal years.
When an employee's absence begins in one FMLA benefit year and continues into the next, departments should reconfirm the employee's FMLA eligibility on July 1, the first day of the new FMLA benefit year. The employee must have worked at the University for 1,250 hours over the previous 12 months as of July 1 of the new benefit year.
Serious health condition
A serious health condition is an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves:
- Inpatient care in a medical facility, or
- Continuing treatment by a health care provider that includes:
- A period of incapacity of more than three consecutive days and any subsequent treatment or period of incapacity for the same condition
- Any period of incapacity due to pregnancy or for prenatal care
- Any period of incapacity or treatment due to a chronic, serious health condition
- Permanent or long-term incapacity due to a condition for which treatment may not be effective
- Any period of absence due to multiple treatments and recovery for restorative surgery after an accident or other injury, or a condition that would likely result in incapacity of more than three days in the absence of medical treatment
These conditions do not qualify for leave under the FMLA unless complications arise:
- A cold
- Upset stomach
- Minor ulcers
- Headaches other than migraines
- Routine dental or orthodontia problems
- Periodontal disease
- Eye examinations
- Routine physical examinations
Under FMLA, a family member is a:
- Spouse: A person in a legally recognized marriage or married under common law
- Parent: A biological, adoptive, step- or foster father or mother, or any other person who had daily responsibility for the care and financial support of the employee when they were a child. (This does not include a parent-in-law.)
- Son or daughter: A biological, adopted, or foster child, a stepchild, a legal ward, or a child for whom the employee provides daily care and financial support. The son or daughter must be under 18 years of age or 18 or older and incapable of self-care because of a mental or physical disability at the time FMLA leave is to begin.
Military family leave
Employees are entitled to two types of FMLA leave related to a family member’s military service:
- A qualifying situation (see below) due to an employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent being called to active duty. This includes members of:
- the Armed Forces
- the National Guard or Reserves
Qualifying situations are:
- Short-notice deployment (issues arising from being called to active duty in seven days or less)
- Military events and related activities, such as ceremonies, family support programs, or briefings
- Childcare and school activities
- Financial and legal arrangements stemming from military duty
- Counseling for the employee, the military member, or a child due to active duty
- Rest and recuperation leave (up to 15 days to spend time with a military member on short-term leave)
- Post-deployment activities, such as arrival ceremonies or reintegration briefings
- Parental care activities if a military member’s parent is incapable of self-care
- Other activities as agreed on by the employer and employee related to active duty
- To care for a service member (spouse, child, parent, or next of kin) with a serious injury or illness incurred in the line of duty. A service member includes currently serving military or a veteran discharged in the last five years who is undergoing treatment.
FMLA Benefit Year for Military Caregiver
The “single 12-month period” for military caregiver leave begins on the first day the employee takes leave for this reason and ends 12 months later (rather than the usual fiscal year established by the University as the FMLA benefit year). Military caregivers are limited to a combined 26 workweeks of leave for any FMLA-qualifying reason during the “single 12-month period.”
Intermittent FMLA leave and reduced schedules
Under certain circumstances, an employee is entitled to take FMLA leave intermittently or by reducing their schedule. Employers must permit employees to take intermittent or reduced schedule leave:
- When there is a medical need for an employee’s own serious health condition
- To care for a spouse, parent, or child with a serious health condition
- To care for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness
- For other qualifying situations
Birth, Adoption, or Foster Care
At the department’s discretion, an employee may use his or her 12 weeks of FMLA eligibility intermittently or on a reduced schedule after a birth, adoption, or foster care placement. Though it is not an entitlement under FMLA in these circumstances, we encourage departments to grant these requests if the absence will not unduly disrupt operations.
An employee who intends to be absent from work intermittently or on a reduced schedule must make a reasonable effort to schedule the absences so they don't disrupt the department’s operations.
Transfer to an Alternate Position
If an employee needs intermittent or reduced schedule leave that is foreseeable based on planned medical treatment, departments can temporarily transfer them to an alternative position that better accommodates recurring periods of leave. The employee's pay and benefits must be the same, although the temporary job's duties do not have to be equivalent.
When the employee no longer needs an intermittent or reduced schedule, the employee must be restored to the same or equivalent job as the one the employee left when the leave started.
An employee may not be transferred to an alternate position when the absences are unforeseeable or unplanned, or for a qualifying situation due to military duties. Departments cannot transfer an employee to an alternative job to discourage the employee from taking leave or to create a hardship for the employee.
Notice to the employee and requests for documentation
Once a department has learned of a potential FMLA-qualifying event, the department must determine an employee’s FMLA eligibility status and provide the employee with these three documents within five business days:
(Microsoft Word versions are also available in the University Policy Library.)
Documentation in Support of an FMLA-Qualifying Absence
The University generally does not require documentation from an employee verifying the reason for an FMLA absence. However, in some cases University departments may require an employee to submit certifying documents. The University can deny FMLA leave if the employee doesn't provide the information.
Departments can require documentation for:
- The employee's or an immediate family member's serious health condition
- Military family leave
Departments cannot ask for documentation for leave to bond with a healthy newborn child or a child placed for adoption or foster care. However, departments can request documentation to confirm the family relationship.
Note: While individual circumstances may warrant a difference in practice, departments should otherwise be consistent in their requests for documentation from employees.
Procedure for Documentation
For situations in which certifying documentation is needed, unit HR departments should follow these steps:
- The supervisor or administrator requests documentation of the FMLA-qualifying leave from the employee within five business days after being notified (or, for unforeseeable leaves, within five business days after the leave starts).
- The University can also require documentation later if a question arises about the appropriateness of the leave or its duration
- Employees provide complete and sufficient documentation within 15 calendar days after the request.
- The department can extend that timeline if the employee's circumstances make it impractical.
- If the documentation is incomplete or insufficient, the supervisor or administrator sends the employee written notice about what additional information is necessary.
- An employee has seven calendar days to provide more information unless it is not practical under the circumstances.
- If additional information is not provided, FMLA leave may be denied until it is produced.
- The department may ask for a second medical certification if there are concerns about the validity of the initial documentation, and also a third medical opinion if the first and second opinions differ.
Types of Documentation
Forms and instructions for employees to certify their FMLA leave are available in the University Policy Library under the administrative policy Family and Medical—FMLA Leave. Forms are available for these qualifying events:
- Serious injury or illness of a veteran for military caregiver leave
- Serious injury or illness of current service member for military family leave
- Birth/care of newborn
- Adoption or foster care placement
- Employee's serious health condition
- Family member's serious health condition
- Qualifying exigency for military family leave
Frequency of Documentation
When an employee’s absence is for their own or a family member's serious health condition, medical documentation may not be requested more than every 30 days unless:
- The employee requests an extension of the absence
- Circumstances described by the previous medical documentation have significantly changed
- New information casts doubt on the validity of the employee’s medical documentation
However, if the original medical documentation indicated the condition will last more than 30 days, the department may not request new documentation until the minimum duration expires. The exception is if the original documentation showed the condition will last more than six months, in which case departments can request documentation every six months.
When an employee’s absence is for military family leave due to a qualifying situation or to care for a service member with a serious injury or illness, departments may ask for documentation just once.
Keeping Records of Documentation
Departments should keep FMLA documentation separate from an employee’s personnel file and retain it for at least three years.
Continuation of benefits
An employee must be enrolled in the UPlan to have their benefit coverage continue under the FMLA.
Benefits Payments During Paid Leave From Work
While an employee is on FMLA leave covered by paid time (such as sick or vacation time), the University continues to pay its share of benefits costs, and the employee's share will be deducted from their paycheck as usual.
Benefits Payments During Unpaid Leave
During the portion of an employee’s FMLA absence not covered by paid leave, the University remains responsible for its portion of the cost, but the employee will have to make arrangements to pay their portion of the cost. (Since the employee is no longer receiving a paycheck, their benefits payments will not be automatically deducted.)
An employee on an unpaid leave will receive a letter with information on continuation of benefits. The employee should follow the instructions in the letter to indicate what benefit coverage they want to continue. They will then be emailed a bill from Accounts Receivable showing the cost of the benefits coverage.
Recovery of Benefits Costs
The employee may be required to reimburse the University for the costs of maintaining the employee’s health and dental benefits during an unpaid leave if the employee does not return to work (for a reason other than a serious health condition of the employee, immediate family member, or service member; or for reasons beyond the employee’s control).
Return to work
An employee returning from an FMLA leave will be placed in the same position the employee had before the absence started, or an equivalent position. If an employee is not returned to the same position, the new position must have:
- The same compensation, including any unconditional pay increases that occurred during the employee's absence
- Substantially similar duties, working conditions, responsibilities, privileges, and status
- The same or geographically equivalent work site (such as no significant increase in commute)
- The same or equivalent shift or work schedule
- The same or equivalent opportunity for discretionary and non-discretionary payments
Temporary employees returning to work after an FMLA absence will be returned to the same or equivalent position provided the position remains a staffing need for the department.
Tracking FMLA usage
Units are responsible for keeping track of FMLA usage for each of their employees, which includes entering FMLA leave in HRMS. PeopleSoft Job Data is the system of record for FMLA tracking.
Two reports can help track FMLA leaves of absence using Job Data, by college or ZDeptID:
The HRMS Instruction web page Queries to Monitor FMLA (pdf) shows you how to find and use each report.
For FMLA leave taken intermittently, which can't be tracked in HRMS, use this manual tracking sheet (xlsx).
Entering FMLA Into HRMS
All FMLA leaves (other than intermittent) must be entered into Job Data. Units will enter the effective date, appropriate action/reason codes, and the expected return date with a new row in the employee's job data.
- FMLA job aids and training
- University Policy Library
- U.S. Department of Labor